SPOILER ALERT: This post contains details of tonight’s Succession series finale.
In the end, heavy is the sycophantic head that wears the crown, as the series finale of Succession proved tonight.
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“You f*ckin’ grabbed the crown, the two of you,” proclaims Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) as she sticks another blade into her hapless brothers in the “With Open Eyes” episode of the Jesse Armstrong-created satire. “Dad died and you f*cking grabbed the crown, and you pushed me out, so I don’t know why I’m the (expletive) here,” she tells the still scheming Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and bruised Roman (Kieran Culkin) with a beautiful Caribbean sunset in the background.
“So, f*ck off, okay? I won and I’m sorry for winning, but I did …I played it better.”
Not really, at least not in the way Snook’s character thought.
For all the gloating, Shiv’s attempts to come out on top in Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård) and tech giant GoJo’s multi-billion-dollar takeover of Waystar Royco and save her scarred marriage to Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), the youngest child of now deceased media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) once again proved not up to the task.
So, she poured gasoline on Kendall’s already burning man in an act of fratricidal arson. “I just don’t think you’d be good at it.” Nine words that effectively cement the siblings’ fate and Logan’s legacy.
In the end, denying Kendall the CEO spot everyone knows he doesn’t really deserve, Shiv’s recreant boardroom vote sends the trio spiraling down the corporate and psychological void to watch it all burn away. “We are bullshit ..it’s all f**king nothing,” declares Roman in a rare display of self-awareness as Kendall sees his dream of sitting in his father’s chair evaporate and the company is sold.
Having risen through the ranks due to his barbed-filled union with the now pregnant Shiv, and once looking at some serious prison time to take the fall for yet another Waystar scandal, today Tom is now Lukas’ CEO. A powerless frontman for the sociopathic Scandinavian, the boy from Saint Paul, Minnesota at least finds himself for a short time the one wearing the pants in his marriage — until Shiv gives birth to Logan’s latest grandchild. As for the Roys’ current role at Waystar, sadsack’s cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) is the last family member standing.
It was delicious to watch, with Snook, Strong, Culkin, and the pertinacious Macfadyen all giving marvelous performances.
Grabbing foreseeable tragedy out of triumph, tonight’s finale also revealed the Roy offspring as amateurs at the game that they were never really raised to play. In the cunning penultimate episode of the HBO series when Strong’s Kendall called his father a “brute” during a spontaneous eulogy for Logan, you could hear a very 20th-century term of praise became a 21st-century insult from a boy who had no spite to offer. Or, as Lou Reed once sang: “Men of good fortune, often cause empires to fall.”
With blood all over the boardroom floor, a fascist heading to the White House thanks to the Roy-owned ATN, and a virtual return of Logan to remind the siblings how little he cared for them, the brutal and beautiful finale closed the deal for Succession after four acclaimed seasons.
Turning birthrights into burned bridges, with the in-house minor Gertrude of the sibling’s estranged mother Caroline Collingwood (Harriet Walker) setting the delightfully dire stage, this very satisfying ender was penned by Armstrong in a testament to the true power of the word and the ones who bring it to page. As with past Succession season finales, Armstrong teamed up with Mark Mylod as director to bring it all home. Having long since eclipsed its origins out of a Rupert Murdoch biography screenplay of Armstrong’s that never got made, the series finale from the duo was pure palace intrigue in sight and sound.
Still, always more Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead than the Bard’s Hamlet or King Lear, Armstrong’s Succession was singularly observant overall. Sure the show could be merely Dynasty with better production value for particular scenes or even whole episodes. However, where Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It was frantic and Veep was funny (both of which Armstrong was a writer on), Succession, at its best like tonight, was also very frightening.
Strategically. ruthless in his portraits, Armstrong made it clear over the series’ run that nothing captures the state of this nation like fear.
Occupying the space between theory and praxis, fiction and fact, the series ripped the flesh off the cultural zeitgeist. Committed to a lack of commitment among its well-heeled characters to anything but their short-term self-interest and an ongoing state of erosion for all they touched, Succession dangled hope where there really was none in a family and an America exhausted with itself.
Circling the empyrean heights of Hogarth, Succession succeeded when it shifted its audience out of its bias and its belief in American capitalism and captains of industry. Almost all of us know so many of these billionaires and CEOs are predatory buffoons. Yet, we rarely say it comprehensively. Add to that, and the discomfort it can breed, we rarely see it framed and articulated with such poignancy, lunacy, and bite as Succession offered.
“The future is real, the past is all made up,” declared Cox’s cruel Logan Roy at his birthday party in Season 2 of the show. Tonight, with the series conclusion, that snark from 2019 proved one of the defining epithets for one of the defining series of the 21st century.
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